We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

World's First 'Visual Microphone' Extracts Sound From Movement

Algorithm extracts audio from video footage.

By Sarah Scoles
Nov 26, 2014 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 6:00 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
By filming the vibrations of a bag of chips, scientists can now re-create ambient sound. | Abe Davis, et al./MIT

“Mary Had a Little Lamb” has once again made aural history. More than 130 years after Thomas Edison shouted the song to his tinfoil phonograph, making the first human voice recording, researchers from MIT, Microsoft and Adobe recorded the rhyme using the world’s first “visual microphone” — an empty bag of potato chips.

Just as a song’s bass thumps in your chest at a concert, Mary’s lamb caused minute vibrations — just tenths of a micrometer — in the chip bag. While our eyes can’t see the tiny vibrations, the team’s high-speed camera, placed behind soundproof glass, could. By analyzing only the bag’s tiny shakes, they reproduced the whole rhyme, the scientists announced in August.

Theoretically, with most cameras and this general technique, you could leave Doritos in your friend’s room and find out what people are saying about you. Police could one day comb security camera footage and identify a perp by how his voice gonged against a glass of water. But the technique’s most valuable application will likely be using sound to probe the structural properties of objects — studying metal alloys, for instance, by blasting sound at them.

The visual microphone turns the world into an even more data-rich place, ready to be mined, according to lead scientist Abe Davis. “We’ve shown that video, which is everywhere today, contains all this information that we didn’t know was there,” he says. “It adds a new dimension to the way we can image the world.”

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.